You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Prior to founding StackedSkincare, a California-based brand specializing in targeted treatments and potent products, Kerry Benjamin was entrenched in the corporate tech world working for companies like Microsoft and DoubleClick. Today, StackedSkincare's sought-after line, which launched in 2014 with humble beginnings, has garnered something of a cult following among skincare enthusiasts and will soon be found on the shelves of renowned stockists such as Sephora and Neiman Marcus.
Like many of the most successful business ideas, the founding of StackedSkincare was spurred by Benjamin's personal experience. "I've struggled with chronic and severe eczema my whole life—but it got really bad in 2007," the entrepreneur told MyDomaine. "I had four MRSA infections, one of which landed me in the hospital for five days hooked up to a morphine drip, and I thought I was going to lose my left arm," she explained. "After that experience, I knew I had to figure out how to control my skin issues, so I moved to Los Angeles in 2009, got my aesthetician's license, and began my career transition."
In this installment of Second Life, meet the self-funded entrepreneur who left her career in tech to pursue her passion for skincare, including the biggest challenges she faced in forging her new career path, the mantras that keep her motivated every day, and the encouraging advice she'd offer to an aspiring entrepreneur.
Tell us about your first career path.
I was a very early adopter in the digital media space. I started in 1997 in San Francisco before digital media was a thing. I was one of the first people to join Microsoft's MSN division in 1998. I was on its retail vertical and was responsible for all the retail accounts in the Bay Area, including Williams Sonoma, Macy's, Sephora, and Restoration Hardware. After MSN, I went to DoubleClick where I managed the global partnerships for Microsoft and Yahoo.
Tell us about your current career path/business.
I'd always intended to launch a product line, but I felt strongly about becoming a skincare expert first, not only to help myself but also to help others. I didn't want to be that high-tech girl with eczema who slapped a label on a bottle. I knew the path to be successful was to take the time to learn about skin and how to treat it.
I spent years in my spa working on clients and helping them correct their skin. It was in my spa that I developed my methodology of combining, or "stacking," various procedures for maximum efficacy. This became the foundation of my skincare line, stacking tools, peels, and serums to achieve healthy, radiant skin at home.
What was the biggest challenge in forging your new career path?
Going to aesthetician school and starting to work on clients was a pretty big challenge! I came from a corporate world and wasn't used to touching people's faces. I had a steep learning curve on how to treat skin.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
For starters, I am very empathetic when it comes to skin concerns, having had eczema on my face when I was younger was pretty debilitating. I always felt alone and ugly, and back then, there were no internet groups to connect with people going through similar experiences. Having skin issues can be very isolating, and being able to help my clients not only correct their skin but also feel great in it has been very rewarding for me.
I'm also a highly self-motivated person. Building my own company has been something I can remember thinking about as early as 10 years old. I was an NCAA gymnast and I've always been a doer.
When it comes to managing a team, I understand how to let people own their jobs. I think having ownership of what you do and being able to really carve it out for yourself is extremely motivating. This is exactly how I was treated in my corporate life, and I'm glad I'm able to pass it along to my team.
What's the biggest risk you took that paid off?
Launching the skincare line! I'm a self-funded entrepreneur and have never borrowed money. I started small, but it was still a pretty large chunk of money, and I was doing it all myself. I was in the spa all day then I'd come to my home office and pack boxes and answer emails. I did everything myself until I could afford to get a warehouse and hire people.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
I wasn't really afraid! I was beyond done with my former profession and ready to move on. This came naturally to me, and I tried not to get too far ahead of myself. I knew the end goal but understood there was so much that I need to do to get there. I didn't overwhelm myself/ I did everything in steps that were a natural progression toward my end goal.
What do you love most about your current role and why?
Product development, building and scaling the company, and working with my team. I love the product development side—it's really fun to create new products and tools, and I love to innovate. Using my business acumen and love for software, I am just now making investments in technology that will allow us to create a lot of efficiencies to grow and scale revenue globally.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
I couldn't be happier. I would never go back to the corporate world. While I'm proud of my business background, and I wouldn't have the success today without that experience, I was more than happy to leave that behind and take that business acumen to build my own company.
What's the most surprising thing you've learned from becoming an entrepreneur?
How hard it is to find and hire talented, smart people. Also, how much I love to work! You can't turn it off. It's a tremendous amount of work, but I wouldn't change anything. I learn new things every day. Because we are so small, everything still flows through me, and every day I find myself needing to solve new business issues. But, I have to say that I love that. I'm a problem solver and I'm really good at it. I work a lot, but I love to work, and I love building this company, so I don't mind at all. I am tired though!
What mantras or affirmations do you use often to keep you motivated and inspired?
"It doesn't have to be perfect; it has to be done." I think people get too hung up on the details and they procrastinate—entrepreneurs don't procrastinate, they DO! While I would love everything to be perfect, it's just not realistic. Maybe the packaging isn't exactly what you envisioned, but the most important thing is the product, not the pretty box. You can get the pretty box when you have customers.
What advice do you have for other women who want to take a leap but fear the change?
Start it on the side. You don't have to quit your job and go all in to start. Lay some groundwork, do your research, and test things. See if you like what you think you want to do and see if you like being an entrepreneur.
Do something every day to move your goal forward and bit by bit you will get there. I took the long road to get here, but I always say, "Slow and steady wins the race!"
For more inspiring stories from successful women who've made major career changes, tune into MyDomaine's Second Life podcast.